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Women in business: “How I found sisterhood in my industry as a small business owner”

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Megan Murray
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Striking out on your own to found a small business might sound scary and even isolating. Heather Gilberthorpe Pell tells Stylist.co.uk how she found sisterhood in the world of entrepreneurship and the necessary work she did on herself to locate her tribe.

While lockdown has been incredibly difficult for all the obvious reasons, something beautiful has come from this time of reflection. 

Though entrepreneurship and the business industry has previously held a reputation for being a challenging, or even hostile, environment for women, a wave of small, female-founded brands have formed and flourished over the last year

It’s been incredible to see, as women create something new and of their own by heading to shoppable social media platforms such as Instagram, and maker communities like Etsy, to assert their businesses.

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Heather Gilberthorpe Pell is one of these women. After working in the events industry for nearly a decade, she says lockdown gave her the chance to reassess if the way she was living really aligned to who she is as a person. This resulted in a decision to strike out on her own and create her candle brand, Lit.

“After an arty start (I studied fine art at university and worked at a gallery), I saw the magic of events when I ran an art market for a gallery I was working for which, to be honest, no one else I was working with wanted to do,” Heather tells Stylist.co.uk.

“This gave me a taste of events planning and I loved it. So, me and two others developed a night market called Peddler in our hometown of Sheffield,” she continues. 

The food market was incredibly successful and for seven years Heather worked on expanding the business with more events, fighting to succeed in an industry that is notoriously stressful.

When last year the business partners decided to go their separate ways, Heather was left with a huge hole that she didn’t know how to fill. While something inside her urged her to choose a more creative direction and set something up on her own, she couldn’t help but feel worried about being lonely and isolated as a single business-owner.

“I kept thinking to myself, ‘I know that working in this environment has become bad for me and bad for my health but it’s still my everything.’ I wondered how I could fill that gap with something positive and constructive,” says Heather.  

“How do you work on your own, and not feel alone?”

It’s a common and understandable worry. Setting up a business is a lot of pressure for one person to take on and it’s easy to imagine how that could lead to feelings of isolation.

But in reality, Heather’s experience has led her to discover a world of sisterhood and support that she couldn’t have dreamed of. Her advice to any other women thinking of setting up shop on their own is “do it – but learn who you are first, and then go out and find your tribe.”

“One of the first things I did after deciding to set up my own business – before I even knew what the business would end up being – was to do the groundwork on discovering who I am and what I want from life. 

“I did a short, online course with Annie Ridout called ’starting a business from home’ which helped me to think about my core values. It asked me questions such as: after working all day, how do I want to feel in the evening? Or, what do I value? How do I want to spend my days and even my weekend? This really helped me,” Heather explains.

Heather realised that making candles for friends and family at Christmas the previous year had made her feel really happy and that this was something she wanted to recreate.

“I wanted it to be a genuine, sustainable brand that brought people some joy. I wanted to find ways of working with other people, too. Collaborating is so important as a small business because it stops you becoming stuck in your ways,” she says.

Heather’s advice on finding other brands to work with is to find those whose values and style seem to align with yours and start organic conversations on platforms like Instagram.

“Don’t be shy,” she says. “I was featured in a Stylist article alongside other small, female-founded brands and so I reached out to them and said, ‘Isn’t this great? How about we do a group giveaway to celebrate?’”

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Heather has also teamed up with her friend Franky, founder of Grey Suit Clay ceramics, which she says has been hugely valuable: “We wanted it to be fun and to learn from each other; seeing how she works made me want to learn more about my own craft and do it as well as I can.”

For anyone considering doing the same, her best advice is: “Don’t be afraid of getting things wrong. It’s all part of the process. It’s so easy to talk yourself out of doing things, so don’t listen to that voice.”

“If your actions aren’t in line with your values and emotions then it will come out – I used to get loads of migraines. I was physically ill from the stress and it’s taken me a long time to unpick and understand that,” Heather recalls.  

“I feel like a different person now. I feel like me and just enjoy being able to be who I am. It takes vulnerability to start a business and you should embrace that because it’s how you find your tribe.”

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Megan Murray

Megan Murray is a senior digital writer for stylist.co.uk, who enjoys writing about homeware (particularly candles), travel, food trends, restaurants and all the wonderful things London has to offer.